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4.20.2009

Is Violence Ever a Good Thing?

Yesterday we asked that challenging question as we explored the topic of violence and attempted to understand God’s character as it is depicted in the Old Testament.

I am currently reading a book by James Hollis called “What Matters Most.” In one of the chapters he discusses the fact that we die many small deaths to become larger. I agree with this idea.

I allow God to bring about certain deaths:

The death of my pride, the death of my judgments, the death of my fears.

But what about the death of those things that I cling to?

My need to feel safe, my need to be loved, my need to feel secure about my future.

And do I have trust like Abraham? I raise the knife. Will God ask me to plunge it into the very promise I believe He gave me or will God stay my hand?

Sacrifice.

Violence.

I allow the death of everything I have, everything that I am. When Jesus said, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me, the answer was the cross.

Is violence ever a good thing? What have I to gain?

The Kingdom of God.

13 comments:

Nick Nelson said...

I am sorry I missed this discussion, it is such an interesting and difficult topic. I don't believe that violence is ever a good thing. Violence was not the way Jesus came and taught. He encouraged peacemaking and modeled it. When the jews were expecting a messiah that would come and restore them with military might, Jesus came and showed them the Way of the Kingdom, a subversive peace through sacrificial love.

It is true that the OT is full of violence, often God ordained and even commanded. Before concluding from these cases that it is therefore "ok" for us to use violence when necessary (by whose definition?) a few things should be considered:
1) We should interpret these passages in light of what we know about Christ, the full revelation of God.
2)Some of these instances may have been God acting out his righteous judgment, which is therefore good and loving (tough concept). However that doesn't license us to be violent. We can't righteously judge, only God can. We are tempted to deem certain situations "just" but Christ tells us we are not to judge. This is the oldest temptation around. In fact it is the root of it all. Adam and eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (i.e. judgment) in order to "become like god." But since we are not God, we have no business trying to use this knowledge and can never use it correctly. By resorting to violence, especially lethal violence, you are judging one persons life to be worth less than anothers. When in fact, every person, no matter what, has unsurpassable worth because Christ died for them.

3) Finally, violence in the OT may point to God's love for us. As we see in Christ and elsewhere in the bible, violence is never God's ideal. However, God loves his people so much that he is willing to compromise his ideal and get his hands dirty by working within the paradigms we have set up for ourselves. In OT times violence and military might ruled and although not his ideal, God used this to further his Kingdom.

As far as WE are concerned however, we are called to imitate Christ. The Kingdom of God, as revealed in Christ, is never furthered by violence. This may put us in unpopular and uncomfortable situations, but we must believe that God will work through love even though we may not be able to see how.

Zack said...

Good points Nick,
It would have been good to have you in the discussion yesterday. I'd like to start by saying that violence utterly disgusts me and my gut reaction is to have nothing to do with it. However; one of the things Brugemann warned against was explaining away God's violence too quickly so I'd like to push back a bit on some of your points.

1) Is no the central focus of the Gospels the crucifixion of Christ by God? Which could be used as just another example of a violent God killing his own Son?

2) Did not everyone have unsurpassable worth before Christ died and yet he chose to wipe out most humans in the flood, destroy Soddom and Gomorrah and others.

3) Does not violence and military might still rule? I don't see much difference expect that now we have bigger guns and the battles are further away from me personally. Maybe it is not His ideal and yet if He used it then why could He not use it now?

The one thing I totally agree with you on is that violence is too often used as a form of judgement that if we can dominate or subject another people we are setting ourselves up as better than them.

jhimm said...

the metaphorical violence you describe here is a long way from the usual discussions around "self-defense" and things of this nature.

did you actually address actual violence?

Nick Nelson said...

Zach, those are good questions. I don't have definite, easy answers, but I have some thoughts.

1. I guess I have never seen the crucifixion as God killing his only son. I have always seen God's action in the event as passive sacrifice, allowing his son to be killed. The actual violence being perpetrated by people. But this is an interesting perspective nonetheless. God was allowing his son to be killed because of a rule (wages of sin is death) that he himself made.

2. In deed everyone, even before christ, has unsurpassable worth. But we still know that there is God's righteous judgement, which is always good and right. The bible records many instances in which God doles out this judgement(including sodom and gomorrah and even when those people drop dead in Acts for withholding property). I don't know why God judges when he does or how he does, but I do have to believe it is always good. This judgement is sort of a metaphysical necessity (there will be a day when we all are judged), just like Christ had to die for our sins in order for us to be reconciled. It doesn't mean that judged people have less worth before God. They were all worth the price of His son.

3. You are absolutely right that military might still rules today if not more so. However, we live under the New Covenant in Christ. God has come to earth in Jesus and has chosen to work in the world through his church(his body). The central purpose of this work is to manifest the Kingdom on earth and the primary method is through love, outrageous, scandalous, sacrificial love. Violence is antithetical to the Kingdom and has no place among Kingdom people.

Jhimm has a point. Much of this is metaphysical (the crucifixion, etc). There are many hypothetical situations you could suggest, such as if my wife was being assaulted, would I just stand there and passively protest it. Hell no. But I am not sure I would be right in doing so.

As for military might, I allow that our nation, as all nations, needs a military. It is just how it works in our fallen world. But, as history attests to, violence is never going to achieve peace, it will only beget more violence. Only love can achieve peace.

Lastly, as a side note, I am wondering if the idea of "just war theory" came up in the discussion and what the thoughts were.

Nick Nelson said...

To clarify number 3 above, my point is that God is now using his body, the church, as his preferred vehicle for working on earth, an no longer must work via militaries and nations. The church rather is (or should be) above nationalism, tribalism and the violence that necessarily accompanies that.

Virgil said...

Good thoughts, enjoyed the perspective. I have never thought that "death" as in "physical death" was in fact a negative issue. There seems to be no evidence that God created humans to be physically immortal, so in fact death is teaching us and prompting us to try to live relevant lives.

Death has also been used by Paul to parallel what a spiritual "death" and disconnect from the Creator is all about.

Jesse said...

I'm glad this has been interesting to more people! I did record the conversation, and was able to post it here: http://www.ourmedia.org/media/41909-discussion-session

If there are problems with the file please let me know - it's a new format I'm trying.

Nick Nelson said...

Virgil- I think you are right. I was trying to get at jesus "paying the price" aspect. But it is completely valid to question substitutionary atonement. I kind of fall back on it b/c it is what I was taught and it makes sense in context of the "christ died for our sins" thing. But the "Christus Victor" school of thought is equally compelling and emphasizes the totality and universal nature of God's victory over the adversary- that he redeemed all of fallen creation, not just humankind. I like the perspective it gives.

Jane Johnson said...

I've really been compelled lately to an idea of Peter Rollins (or at least he's who I first heard it from), that God's chosen people are those who wrestle with him, as the name "Israel" indicates. As Bruggeman points out, there seem to have been times in the OT when an Israelite reached out in an effort to stop God's violent hand. The notable story is of course Abraham pleading with God over Soddom and Gomorrah. Rather than passing this story off as God lying to Abraham at first in a way that would cause Abraham to question him, which is what God really wanted all along, Bruggeman wants us to consider that Abraham, the creation, truly affected the mind of the creator. God really did want to destroy the Soddomites, and Abraham reminded God of mercy.

I had a weird thought during our discussion on Sunday: what if one of the reasons God created humanity was to teach himself? It would be difficult to be an all-powerful being, and never be tempted to get out of control, I suppose... This isn't yet a well-formed thought, but to me it is worth entertaining, at least within a dramatic frame that allows one to wrestle with God.

Nick Nelson said...

Jane- that is an interesting thought. I definitely agree that humans can effect the mind/intentions of God. The bible makes that clear. There are several times when God changes his mind based on human requests or other actions. This is what makes prayer so powerful and important. It also makes complete sense knowing how relational our God is. Two-way impact is a marker of authentic relationship. I am not sure about the purpose of creation being for God to teach himself or learn from exactly. That would imply there are things God doesn't know or there are ways he could improve. But I do think that there is a level of relationship and authentic interaction that is present in the purpose of our creation.

This brings up a really really interesting discussion free will, God's knowledge of the future, predestination, etc. If humans can genuinely change God's stated intentions, where does that leave God's divine plan- God's so-called blueprint? Christians rely on this idea for so many comforting (or non-comforting in my opinion) cliches like "every thing happens for a reason" and "It is all part of God's plan, you just have to trust him." Well if the Bible shows us that God states he is planning to do one thing and then ends up doing another, where does that leave us?

Jesse said...

Some recent comments from Rob Bell in a CT interview:

You say, "Jesus is leading all creation out of the land of violence, sin, and death." You've added the word violence to the Pauline "sin and death." Why?The myth of redemptive violence—Caesar, peace, and victory—is in people's bones so deeply, we aren't even aware of it. You crush the opposition, that's how we bring peace.

Early in the biblical narrative, one brother kills the other brother. In the arc from Genesis 4 to Genesis 11, there is a growing epidemic of violence. It's almost like the writers are saying, "Look at this." It's like cracks on a windshield. A pebble hits your windshield, and it just cracks and cracks.

I'm getting my son a video game the other day, and I'm talking to the guy who runs this video store. He's telling me that when Halo 3 came out, they had 350 people at midnight lined up outside the door. You can't believe the excitement that people have for a game in which you shoot people. Violence is just assumed. It's everywhere.

Are you a pacifist, or do you think that a truly Christian church has to be a pacifist church?My dad is a U.S. Federal District Judge and gets lots of death threats. On Father's Day a couple of years ago, there were bodyguards in the driveway at our house. And I am okay with that.

But I sit right in that tension. Sometimes people say no police, no armed forces, no anything. And the truth is, whether I am falling short of Jesus' teaching or not, there are situations where I am really glad that there is a policeman standing right there and that he has a gun. So I don't know how exactly you work that out in detail.

But my hope would be that as a Christian, you would have a larger imagination. Take Saddam Hussein. Your first impulse would be, "Man, if he wasn't in power, it would be great—and the only way is to bring in a hundred thousand troops." To me, the third way of Jesus is always asking if there is an imaginative, subversive, brilliant, creative path.


Full article here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/april/26.34.html

Scot said...

thanks Jesse for that Rob Bell portion. I've been bothered by our discussion last Sun. all week now. It just seems like the video and lots of what we discussed and what has been posted overlooks the "Bully" factor. Which to me is impractical. Human nature rules out a Utopian option. Humanity is broken by sin. Christians are "learning" a new way to live. But we don't get to leave the neighborhood where the bully's are, namely planet earth. So there's the tension...live a new way in an environment where not everybody respects the boundaries of the new way. "You kids play nice out there!"
When pressed on Pacifism (a premise I believe Walter B. is standing on) RB didn't have a clear cut answer. Enter the tension. Force was relied on to protect his dad. Evidently there wasn't enough time to come up with "an imaginative, subversive, brilliant, creative path". The bully s have there own schedule that spills into our lives.

I wonder how much personal experiences play into our take on this issue? Where I grew up you got separated from your bike by a fist to the face. At my Junior high school there were three brothers who you didn't want to meet in the bathroom. Two would hold the door shut while you defended your lunch money from the third. When he tired he was relieved by a fresh brother from the door etc...they wore you down, you went lunch less. In my High school the police patrolled the halls IN PAIRS my first year because of racial issues. Suffice it to say I perceive bully s as real. I don't imagine the son of a Federal judge got as up close to them as I did or lived in the same type of neighborhood. I'm wondering about Walter B. too.

Nick Nelson said...

While it is true that we live in tension with the world- we are called to be in the world, but not of it- we should wrestle with it from a Kingdom of God perspective rather than being pulled into a kingdom of world perspective.

Looking to the NT we are commanded to never "repay anyone evil for evil" but rather "overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:17,21; 1 Thess.5:15; 1Peter 3:9). Likewise, Jesus says "Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also" (Matt. 5:39) and he said "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you" (Luke 6:27-28).

It is pretty clear. However, on the one hand, as believes we need to consider these statements seriously. On the other, it is hard to do, especially in extreme situations, and the reality is that very few of us would do this in these situations. Like many of Jesus' teachings this could not be more radical.

The bully example is a good one, but what does it look like when we apply these principles Jesus gave us? I think we find wisdom in them. By not responding in like violence, we keep from being defined by our enemies. When we respond with violence of any kind (including verbal and attitudinal) we legitimize the violence towards us. When we take the Kingdom route and “turn the other cheek” we expose the injustice of the actions towards and the corrupt nature of our attacker. We also show that they have no power over us (in the sense that the can define out actions).

Here is an insight from Greg Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation, talking about these passages, "As with all of Jesus' teachings, it's important to place this teaching in the broader context of Jesus' kingdom ministry. Jesus' teachings aren't a set of pacifistic laws people are to merely obey, however unnatural and immoral they seem. Rather his teachings are descriptions of what life in God's domain looks like and prescriptions for how we are to cultivate this alternative for of life. In other words, Jesus isn't saying, "as much as you want to resist and evildoer and kill you enemy, and as unnatural and immoral as it seems,act loving towards him." He's rather saying, "Cultivate the kind of life where loving your enemy becomes natural for you." He's not merely saying, "Act different from others"; he's saying "Be different from others." This is simply what it means to cultivate a life that looks like Jesus, dying on a cross for the people who crucified him."

What this is saying is that as we become more Christ-like and engage in "moment by moment" discipleship out nature will change, conform more to Christ, and we will be able to see the "an imaginative, subversive, brilliant, creative path."